I’ve spent the better part of the past 24 hours in transit thinking about my time at E3 2017. This year’s gaming extravaganza was littered with highs and lows spread out across what is now essentially a week-long celebration of gaming (and the frustrations that come with it). I’ve moved back and forth on my most disappointing and my most surprising — and I haven’t quite locked in those ones yet — but when it comes to my personal game of show, there’s a clear outright winner: Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus.
Developer MachineGames has brought to the table a game that seemingly expands upon The New Order‘s grandiose amplification of excessive violence and wit. This introductory stanza meets the first game’s standards of run-of-the-mill good guys vs bad guys gunplay, managing to shoot well beyond it into a field of weird hilarity and stunning difficulty.
Where The New Order managed to build upon a rather forgettable and boring opening few missions The New Colossus sets a seemingly insurmountable benchmark for itself, and it’ll be interesting to see how if at all MachineGames keeps the pace throughout the adventure.
That the studio has managed to achieve this with our main hero BJ Blazkowicz confined to a wheelchair is rather astonishing. Bethesda games — specifically its shooters — have made vocal attempts to set narrative and visual standards for introductory moments, with last year’s DOOM being a great example, but The New Colossus pushes the bar up to unprecedented heights.
In what was a “surely not” moment — in that I could neither believe that I was actually going to be controlling BJ in a wheelchair, nor that it would actually be as enjoyable as it turned out to be — I found myself guiding BJ through hoards of Nazis in tight, confined and creepy surroundings, with a number of environmental challenges in the way for good measure.
The New Colossus‘ opening moments almost play out like a tutorial, except the experience’s intimidating pace and punishing sense of combat makes it more of a rude awakening than a “welcome to the jungle”-type moment.
Few games manage to rely so heavily on on-rails level design; DOOM did it well to a degree, The New Order probably liked it too much, but my time with The New Colossus showed a game brimming with creative urgency and punishing level design. While it was hard to lose my way, almost every simple passage way was countered by a bottleneck of Nazi soldiers. This means that whenever I felt like things were slowing down, the game decided to jam a wrench into BJ’s already severely damaged lower waist.
This brutality is present on the game’s default difficulty level of Normal, and it’s The New Colossus‘ trial-and-error gameplay that I feel really set it apart from other games — specifically other shooters — that I played at E3 2017. I could enter some areas and lose, but then return and absolutely dominate the enemy by taking advantage of subtlety placed environmental resources like explosive gas canisters.
Sure, these canisters are FPS tropes — BLOW UP ALL THE THINGS! — but they’re useless if you don’t actually bait a Nazi to walk close enough to it for the explosion to be effective. The same goes for microwave generators that block passage ways and always made up a majority of my own deaths throughout the playthrough. If MachineGames wanted to show off a brutal, punishing and chaotic vision of The New Colossus, they certainly achieved it with this E3 demo.
But what makes Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus my favourite game and stand out of E3 2017 isn’t the aforementioned on an individual level: it’s the combined package and cheeky aesthetic cues that shape it as one of the year’s must-have games. I knew I was (finally) making my way towards the end of the demo because the music was ramping up to a level and pace that had my heart beating to a similarly brutal sense of awareness and fear. It’s almost like I could foresee what was around the corner, but I could never be sure because the experience makes it clear early on that it can’t be trusted.
Is that what we should expect from a Wolfenstein? I’d have thought so. It’s not just about shooting Nazis and pushing through the area, at least it wasn’t for me. What really separated my time from The New Colossus from the other games I played at E3 2017 was that the world itself was a villain, constantly battling my cocky sense of know-it-all gamer skills. I died time and time again before I found myself grovelling for forgiveness, praying I could make my way through the next area before I picked up some health packs. The New Order was not unlike that, but these moments in The New Colossus never felt run-of-the mill. They never felt hellbent on submitting to the expectations of the stereotypical FPS player, instead obsessing over brutality and chaos at the expense of predictability.
Above all else, The New Colossus sits firmly atop my “best of E3” list because it felt like a real, non-scripted journey, an offering strangely absent from an annual gaming obsessed with big CGI trailers and celebrity spottings. It’s one thing to be confident, but to have the product to back it up? Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus certainly walked the walk this E3.
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus launches October 28 on Xbox One, PS4 and Steam